Will Joe Mauer Add Power Now That He’s At First?

As I’m sure you know, the Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer will be playing first base this year after almost a decade as one of the premier catchers in MLB.  No complaints from me on the switch of positions — I’ve been saying for years (e.g., here) that Mauer should be moved to 1B post haste.  He’s too big to play catcher 120+ games per year, year after year, and his bat is too good for the rest days and injuries that come with being a starting catcher.

Now that Mauer will be moving to 1B, where I fully expect he’ll make a great target and have soft hands, will he become a different type of hitter than he has been for most of his career?  1Bmen are expected to hit for power, mainly because its a position where a big slugger too slow to play elsewhere can be placed to get his big bat in the line-up without hurting the team’s defense too much.

Mauer is certainly big enough and strong enough to hit for power if he elected to do so.  He hit 28 dingers in 2009, but hasn’t hit more than 13 in any other season.

So far in his career Mauer has instead taken the same approach that Pete Rose took during his career.  Rose was certainly strong enough and talented enough as a hitter to have hit for power if he had chosen to do so.  In fact, Rose did hit 15 or 16 HRs in a season three times in his career.

However, Rose almost certainly made a conscious choice to forgo the home run ball in favor of hitting for the highest possible average and collecting his 200+ hits a year until he eventually became the Hit King.  In fact, Rose’s and Mauer’s numbers look pretty similar through age 30, except that Mauer is a slightly better hitter and Rose played a lot more games, mainly because he wasn’t a catcher.

Entering his age 31 season, Mauer has the experience and the ability to become a 30-HR-a-year man starting immediately if he’s willing to give up a few points on his batting average to do it.  Because of all his time spent at catcher, I don’t think Mauer has a good shot at collecting 3,000 hits, so he doesn’t have the same incentive to continue to be the kind of hitter he’s been throughout his major league career to date.

Still, old habits die hard, and Mauer has gone through a long career as a certain kind of hitter.  However, now that he’s a full-time 1Bmen, the public and the media will look to him to hit like a 1Bmen.  The question is whether Mauer will decide to change his approach now that his position has changed.

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